Remember that time you gathered your things and tiptoed out of the back of a classroom hoping no one would notice because you discovered you were in the wrong class?
Sit back down. You aren’t in the wrong place. This is not the typical post you find here, but it’s written for you.
It was September 26th 16 years ago that we gazed into each others’ eyes and promised to love each other until death do us part. The vow hardly seemed necessary because at that moment, seemingly nothing could make us part. We couldn’t get enough of each other. Four children, career changes, lots of bills, an adoption and more than a handful of grey hairs later, our googly eyes can see things a bit more clearly. We now know that this thing called marriage that we thought was the most natural thing in the world for us to do is really, really hard. The toothpaste on the sink and socks on the floor have nothing on the pressure that parenting challenging children can put on our relationship. When our buttons are pushed and we’re so exhausted that we can hardly hold a cohesive conversation at the end of the day, those early years of marriage (and all the excitement of them) seem like a very long time ago. Parenting, especially intentional parenting of children from hard places, has a way of magnifying all things ick in our lives. And, sisters, that can put out the fire faster than a six year old in front of a birthday cake.
We committed to be husband and wife until death do us part, not children do us part. I’ve learned a few things lately as I’ve dug my heels in here in this partnership.
- Don’t be content in a rut. There have been times I’ve thought my expectations were simply too high and that I needed to just learn to be okay with where we were. When I find myself hearing those words in my head, I know I’m headed in the wrong direction. Being content with being disconnected may seem like like the right thing to do, but it breeds passivity that is relationally destructive. If things are not where they should be, that’s okay. But, I know we can’t stay there.
- Make room for each other. There was a time that we only had room for each other. But, four kids take up a lot of room. Attachment takes up a lot of room. If I spent as much time considering our attachment as I did my daughter’s attachment, things would look a lot different. Now, that room, that space in our hearts and in our minds and in our days isn’t going to happen unless we make it happen. We have to plan out time for each other and be willing to put other things aside to be with each other and consider each other even if it feels sorta awkward because it’s been too long since we did or even if our to-do list is still mocking us. If we don’t put things down and intentionally look up at each other for a little bit, we are going to be in a perpetual disconnect that looks a lot like that broken attachment cycle we know all about.
- Be bold in sharing exactly what you need. Maybe he knew my every thought early on; but, even Prince Charming is not a mind reader. I cannot assume that because he isn’t giving me what I need that he doesn’t want to. He may just not know what it is that I do need. And, it is not fair for me to hold it against him that he doesn’t. I have been learning to ask him how I can love him better and be bold in telling him how he can love me better. I don’t say it with judgment against him; I say it more with the underlying message of, “I know you love me but I think I’d be able to know that more readily and feel it more fully if you _________.” Sometimes it amazes me that after so many years of living in the same home and sleeping side by side that we can both still be learning how to love each other better. But, I guess it shouldn’t amaze me because we need different things in different seasons. As things change, I know we need to grow with each other and fight against growing away from each other.
- Be willing to initiate. I am really good at complaining and feeling slighted when I feel like my husband is not paying enough attention to me while being completely unwilling to initiate something to pay attention to him. I have learned that he may not be moving towards me because I’m consistently unintentionally sending him the message that I want to be left alone. When I take the initiative to write him a note, send him a text to say I’m missing him, make some sort of move towards him instead of isolating myself, things change. I want to be together and I want to be connected; I need to be willing to initiate some sort of closeness to him physically or otherwise to make that happen. It doesn’t all rest on him. Specifically with regards to the spicy kind of initiation, when I’m really not feeling it, I pray for something to change within me, for whatever walls that are there to come down, for the energy I need, for the ability to focus and feel. He honors those prayers. And for those of you familiar with all the brain chemistry stuff from all those adoption books you’ve been reading, check this out: sex gets your oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine flowing which not only makes you feel happy but also increases your desire for more connection both physically and otherwise. The way He’s created us makes sex meet our needs. Yeah, just do it applies here.
- Remember what was without bemoaning what is. Our 7th grade son came home with some interview questions he had to ask us for a mysterious class called “family sciences.” “How did having children impact your finances? your time? your career? your friendships?” He didn’t think he’d get full credit if he only wrote: [insert laughter here]. Children changed everything. We had found our new normal with three children and then we brought home our youngest from China, and everything changed all over again. Things we did before, we couldn’t do anymore. Before our daughter from China came home, we had this awesome deal with another couple with kids the same ages as ours. One weekend, they’d take our three for a big sleepover. Another weekend, we’d have our three and theirs for a sleepover. After we adopted, that deal was over; we couldn’t leave her. We learned that we had to capture the spirit of what we used to enjoy within the context of our new normal. Rather than trying to do it the exact same way and being disappointed and discouraged that it’ll never be the same which could lead me into a pattern of “what ifs,” we learned that we need to do things differently but in a way that engages what it was that we did enjoy and then be in the moment and simply enjoy it even though it looks different.
- Share but don’t overshare. I have a few kindred-spirited friends who hold each other accountable to how we’re loving our husbands. We are willing to ask each other harder questions (Are you making room for your husband in all the busyness? Are you being bold with him? Are you initiating relationally? physically?). We answer while never disparaging our spouses or sharing anything that would dishonor them. We take a break from talking about discipline and kids’ sales and food issues and getting little ones to sleep and encourage each other to be intentional wives.
We are their forever families, yes. But, Lord willing, those children will one day leave our homes to have homes of their own. And, when they do, I want the two of us to still be standing here, forever side by side, hand in hand, with grey hair and laugh lines with a love for each other that is way deeper than I thought it would be when we took those vows back when he and me became we.